15 Big Ideas for Smaller Patios

Expansive patios with built-in outdoor kitchens, fire pits, living room-style furniture and even big TVs seem to dominate articles about backyard décor. Small patio owners may have a more difficult time finding tips for outfitting their petite spaces. Here’s some inspiration to make the most of your outdoor space.

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Save Space With a Built-In Bench

1. Consider built-ins. In a courtyard, a raised garden bed can serve as the back of a built-in bench. This adds room for a generously sized table. Tall trees and slatted trellis walls keep the building walls around the courtyard from feeling oppressive.

2. Integrate local materials. This large stone slab table coordinates with the surface underfoot, making it look as though it emerged from a rock ledge.

Rice Mountain Residence

3. Go large scale. This oversized urn creates a focal point on this modest-sized patio. Another clever trick here: the raised bed walls serve as extra seating. For a narrow patio, a long dining table and built-in benches are just the right fit.

The Taupe Courtyard

4. Think creatively. Most of us haven’t used a milk crate as a piece of furniture since college, but in these bright colors and next to this contemporary home they look like something Warhol would have conjured up as an art piece. They are also easy to move around, stack and even use to carry things outside. The bottom line is to let these simple crates—or another budget piece—inspire you to get creative with furnishings beyond typical patio sets.

Shopfront House

5. Go tall in a sunken space. In an urban setting, any outdoor space is a luxury, even one below street level. A high-top table and tall planting bed can be used to complement the space.

6. Play off an outbuilding. Patios typically are located off the house, but if you don’t have room to expand there, a detached garage or shed can provide a nice anchor for an outdoor living space.

7. Embrace a water element. You’d be surprised how well a small patio can take on water features. This urban garden in Washington, D.C., has a wonderfully scaled, stepped-down narrow trough fountain that hugs the perimeter of the patio and helps to mitigate the city noise.

Water feature in a small space

8. Add landscape lighting. Nothing ruins nighttime patio enjoyment like turning on the lone, way-too-bright spotlight you have in your backyard. Softer lighting on the ground and off the house can create a more pleasant mood. If you’re ready to invest in lighting, collect a few hurricanes and lanterns to keep the flames from blowing out in the breeze.

9. Create eye-catching details. A monolithic wall topped with a picket fence-like border of reclaimed wood changes the feeling on this small patio. Note the way the lighting helps as well.

House 2022

10. Mix materials with thought. This patio sits in the back corner of the yard. A custom concrete and stone bench, coordinating concrete fire pit and flagstone floor tie it to the yard and the house.

Custom Concrete Fire Table and Benches

11. Create continuity with paving. Extending the same tiles under the loggia and out to the small patio lends a feeling of expansiveness. Using the same material from the floor inside to the patio outside creates an easy transition between the two areas.

12. Carve out a lounging space. A simple grid of pavers set in gravel provides a flat surface for these two loungers and an umbrella to nestle into the garden. Also, a small brick patio provides a level surface for iron patio furniture. Now seating is part of the shade garden.

Mangan 2-1

13. Push a table up against the wall. On a narrow patio you may not be able to have a larger table surrounded by chairs and still be able to pass through. But if you consider shoving it to the edge when not in use, you can have the best of both worlds.

14. Go for a casual, natural look. By using log seats, lots of plants and a lovely pea gravel, you can blend your small patio with the landscape and the home. Trellises, narrow planting beds and containers are good ways to bring life and height to a small walled-in patio.

15. Integrate with the architecture. This modern pergola connects the patio to the home while providing wonderful dappled shade.

Iron Shade Arbor